Jan 21 2015

Texas Students Win $100K for App Using IBM’s Watson

CallScout helps people in need find information on local social services.

A team of students from the University of Texas at Austin won $100,000 in seed funding in a competition where they combined the power of IBM's Watson with an app to expand access to information on local social services.

CallScout, a smartphone app developed by 12 students, is able to quickly answer questions posed in spoken word by using Watson, IBM’s artificially intelligent supercomputer.

Student teams from nine universities competed in IBM’s first Watson University Competition, part of the company’s cognitive computing academic initiative. IBM and the Entrepreneur's Fund provided funding for the winning team, helped judge the winners and offered guidance for students along the way. Using their access to Watson through the Watson Developer Cloud and their course curriculum, students were tasked with finding an industry-specific challenge that Watson could help overcome. Each team had to create an app as well as a business plan centered on the industry they selected.

CallScout emerged as the winner for its fast, smooth solution to navigating information on local social services, including health care, food pantries and housing. Incorporating maps, hours of service and routes to the facilities providing such services, the app will also send push notifications when critical information changes, according to the press release. 

CallScout resonated with Stephen Gold, vice president of marketing at the IBM Watson Group, who said in a video that it demonstrated how the technology could be used "to truly touch the lives of individuals and change outcomes."

“This is more than a school project for us — it’s about creating a sustainable business that addresses one of the key challenges we all face as Texas residents,” said Bri Connelly, the team leader for CallScout and an undergraduate computer science student at UT Austin, in a press release. “The opportunity to directly impact citizens of our home state was a huge driving force in our work.”

Texas has approved a pilot of CallScout, about which Connelly wrote in a blog post. She noted that the team hopes to launch a pilot through United Way of Austin later this year and that it’s considering building on the momentum by creating a startup.

“This is the first thing I have ever done in technology that’s really helping people. I won’t stop now,” Connelly wrote.

Watson was developed by IBM to process vast amounts of data, while understanding the nuances of speech, to return tangible results. In 2011 the computer made a splash by competing — and winning — on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Watson is now being expanded for use as a commercial technology in industries such as medicine and education.

Clarification: This article was updated to provide additional information about The Entrepreneurs' Fund's involvement in funding and judging the competition.


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